First, a little background. From CNN:

After 16 years behind bars in Mississippi, two sisters were released Friday on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other.

Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the sentences of Gladys Scott, 36, and Jamie Scott, 38, who were serving life sentences for armed robbery. Gladys agreed to donate a kidney to her sister, who according to their lawyer, is gravely ill.

“I haven’t woke up. It’s still a dream. It’s still a dream to me,” said Jamie. “It’s been a long, hard road, but we made it.”

[...]

Although they would have been eligible for parole in 2014, the Department of Corrections “believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society” and their incarceration was no longer necessary for rehabilitation, Barbour said in a statement last week.

Jamie’s kidney dialysis treatment creates a substantial cost to the state, said Barbour.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, who agreed with the decision to suspend the sentences, said the three-times-a-week dialysis cost the state about $190,000 a year.

There’s an awful lot of politics involved here including Gov. Haley Barbour’s recent racial missteps and some recent pressure from the NAACP (whose president Ben Jealous can be seen right behind the sisters above). To be fair to the NAACP, I’ve heard from them that they’ve delivered over 40,000 letters in the past to Mississippi legislators from members & supporters of the Scott sisters. And as Field Negro so eloquently puts it:

Thank you NAACP! Even though,as usual, you were behind the 8 ball, and it was race chasing bloggers like moi screaming injustice for anyone who will listen, who were in front of this story. Still, we understand that you are the official face of the Negro in A-merry-ca, and if you hadn’t gotten involved or Haley hadn’t decided he wanted to be president someday, Gladys and Jamie would still be rotting in jail.

Still no one can and should deny the long-standing efforts of black bloggers and online activists in securing the sisters’ release. I’d like to join African-American Political Pundit in giving the New York Times some love for acknowledging the role of a newly empowered group of internet-savvy black people who ain’t playin’. From the NYT:

Three boys and a young man, ages 14 to 18 at the time, were also convicted; they served their sentences and were released from custody years ago, Mississippi officials said. The sisters denied playing any role in the crime but were given such heavy sentences because the judge believed they had organized the robbery.

After years of unsuccessful efforts by their family and friends to get the sisters released because of inconsistencies in testimony during the trial, Jamie Scott’s kidney failure in January 2010 led to a renewed grass-roots campaign to free them. The effort on behalf of the sisters, who are black, was first taken up by African-American-themed Internet sites, and more recently by the N.A.A.C.P. and by black politicians in Mississippi.

Maximum big ups need to go to Nancy Lockhart blogging at Free the Scott Sisters & BlogHer who had this insightful take:

Free sort of, that is. Time served on a sentence that even Barbour himself called longer than usual for the alleged crime committed wasn’t enough payment; a kidney was due. When I read that Barbour—a “tough on crime” governor—said the condition for freedom for Gladys, who had already said a year ago without coercion that she wanted to donate a kidney to her sister, was she must part with an organ, a little more of that initial happiness ebbed from me. “What!” I said and decided not to write too much about it then lest my anger set the computer on fire.

I don’t have to go into exactly what’s wrong with the “kidney deal” here. Bioethicists have already objected. Barbour’s “quid pro quo” order violates 50 years of organ transplant law, they say. But the governor, with his sights on the Oval Office, is not worried. In fact, he seems to think he’s found a new way to claim that he’s fiscally responsible as he signs off on the sisters’ release.

This is great news for human rights despite the unsavory implications that it’s cheaper to release the sisters than to care for them adequately in prison. Does anyone find it ironic that Barbour who’s probably a fan of “states rights” is content to shift the cost of care for the Scott sisters from Miss. taxpayers to all American taxpayers??? Um, paging healthcare reform. And as AAP says, this is a huge victory for the sisters but they still have a tough road ahead of them.

Yes, they are finally out of the prison, but they are not fully free. The struggle will continue to obtain total freedom for them. They will need our help.  The whole idea of conditioning Glady’s Scott’s release order to a donation of the kidney that she had already volunteered to do for her sister does not seem right. She will need the best of Medical Treatment. Hopefully the group the Color of Change can assist with raising money to help that effort. They will also need housing assistance and employment assistance. Unfortunately Federal laws donot allow them to receive Federal loans or grants to further their education, nor does Federal law allow the to receive Federal housing assistance. People who feel that an injustice occured should be the first to donate to a Scott Sisters Relief effort.  More Later…

He’s right — ex-cons often find life outside prison difficult and given the rampant racial profiling & persecution African-Americans face in this country, the revolving prison door and dysfunction impacts our communities more than most. As Nancy Lockhart states:

When I first heard that Barbour had suspended their sentences, I rejoiced, but not as much as I would have rejoiced had the governor pardoned the women because it is my understanding that an indefinite suspension amounts to life on parole and leaves both women with felony records, making it difficult for either to find work.

We’ll have to look out for the Scott sisters to ensure their true triumph in the long run over the arbitrary injustice that our society too often metes out to people of color. In the short run, well, is there an affluent, suburban, mostly white community in Mississippi that’s about to get $190K spent on say…a lovely new dog park in time for the next election?

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